It always feels good to leave England, especially when adventure is on the cards. Don’t get me wrong, I love England, lived here my whole life and some of the best places I’ve visited are here. But Europe (In the British sense of the word) just feels better. The experience as a whole, the countries, culture, cuisine, all come with a freedom that you just don’t get here. You don’t instantly feel suffocated by the local political or legal system, something which I personally am always happy to leave behind.
Barcelona is a city that, like Paris, emphasises the idea of a “free city”. We had been there for a single day and already witnessed local skateboarders, musicians and artists in the streets, unrestricted by an overbearing authority. People were doing what they wanted and to a tourist such as myself, it seemed to work. They were happy. As a city for exploration, Barcelona doesn’t fail to deliver. Rooftops, cranes, hotels and abandonments, all unlocked and discoverable with but a twist of the head.
Designed by Carles Boigas and measuring at 107 m high (351 ft), the Torre Jaume I is a steel truss tower supporting the Port Vell Aerial Tramway in Barcelona. Originally intended as an attraction for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition (World’s Fair), the size of the project was underestimated by Bleichert, the company contracted to construct the tramway, as a result the tramway did not open until the 12th September, 1931.
The tramway was not a commercial success, severe impact from the Great Depression resulting in the closure of public service in 1935, with the Torre Jaume I being utilised as a lookout and machine gun post during the Spanish Civil War in 1936. During the conflict the tramway was heavily damaged, the cables and half its cars were destroyed, leaving little but the towers. One of the surviving cars was transferred to the Aeri de Montserrat and began operating again in 1940. The rest of the system was left to rust, officials even discussing the idea of completely destroying the structure.
This was until Friedrich Gründel, chief engineer during the construction established the Teleféricos de Barcelona, S.A. As a result, the Torre Sebastià re-opened with an added restaurant at its top in 1960, with the Torre Jaume I following suit in 1963. However, the system now only utilised two cars, instead of the original four. For the next forty years, the system slowly but surely degraded, both commercially and technically and was eventually closed by the authorities.
In 1996, the tramway lifted its head once more from the demolition chopping block, construction of the nearby World Trade Center and the redevelopment plan of the Port Vell area resulted in renovation and re-opening of the system in 2000. The Torre Jaume I however has yet to re-open, the restaurant remains a stripped cavity, the stairwells and lift in disrepair. Visitors to the tramway are sometimes allowed out of the car and onto the Jaume platform, but no further.
So there we were, the early hours of the morning, the tower to our front, a sleeping hobo to our right. Although in a fairly secluded area, the local port authority and hotel cause infrequent and unpredictable traffic, something which we would just have to wait out. This, took longer than expected. Eventually, the arriving hotel guests thinned, its porter now inside, the area finally became quiet. The coast was clear, nothing stood in the way of us and our goal. Rising from our perch, we bid a silent farewell to our unkempt friend for one last check. Clang, a door opened and a glimmer of yellow emerged from behind the tower, slowly heading towards us. Security.
While we were on public space, a confrontation with a guard would have resulted in calling it a night, we had no legitimate reason to be there and continuing to hang around would arouse further suspicion. “Quick, try to look vagrant” and with that Brad slumped against the railings like he had just chugged 8 special brews. Following his lead I pretended to sleep and worryingly, this worked, the guard pausing then walking off in another direction.
The guard paced back and forth, circling and examining the tower and locks, all the while keeping a close eye on us. He knew exactly what we were up to, given the time and what we wore, we didn’t belong, adrift in the social void between the hobos who slept beside us, and the upper class in the hotel in front. Eventually he returned to the port office, pulled up a chair in the window, and sat, starring at us.
Almost an hour passed, the guard disappeared and Brad had legitimately fallen asleep, his snores challenging that of the seasoned professionals nearby. It was cold, my patience had run thin, we could wait for hours with no result, we just had to try our luck. Awaking Brad he was in agreement, all or nothing. We were not disappointed.